Like a lot of people in early 2020, I was furloughed from my job and was confined to my house in order to practice social distancing. I remember getting the phone call from my boss. I knew it was bad when he started off with: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news . . .” I took a deep breath and began working out the details of how I was going to get the bills paid, feed the kids, and keep my wife from having to go back to work.
I lay on the floor of my bedroom at one point that Sunday, with the typical fears of unemployment racing through my head, but what scared me the most was how I was going to get along with my five-year-old son.
My son and I have struggled to have a good relationship from the start. We didn’t get to bond when he was a baby because for the first year of his life, he spat up almost every time he was moved or jostled in any way. Needless to say, I practiced a lot of social distancing with my son. (The spitting up was due to an undiagnosed imbalance in his system where his body rejected nearly anything we fed him. So there was no tickling or rolling around like fathers and sons do.)
He never slept. Even though my wife was the one to always get up with him, this was another cause of constant stress in the household. His crying at night would also wake up our daughter, who’s a year older than him, and shares the same room. To make matters worse, I was dealing with depression over my dead end job and my failing marriage. I secretly blamed my son for a lot of the unrest and turmoil in our house, though now I know that blame was grossly misplaced.
I’m deeply ashamed to admit it, but it was hard for me to tell him that I loved him, which is what I think we both needed most. But due to behavioral issues, he had spent so much time screaming, even when I tried being the “good-guy dad.” And the cycle repeated itself over and over.
It was dizzying.
And it didn’t help that I hated my job. I didn’t want to come home to a screaming child, but I also didn’t want to leave the house to go spend another ten hours at an unfulfilling job, either.
So on that Sunday two months ago, I laid on the floor and I just knew neither of us was going to survive being stuck together in the house. There were bound to be some casualties amongst the four of us.
But I’ve learned that the gift of free time offers perspective, patience, and a chance to heal.
Here’s the thing. My furlough-turned-termination may have forced me to be at home more, but it also gave me fifty-plus extra hours a week to be at home with my family. That’s ten hours a day we got to know each other, do things together (within quarantine guidelines, of course), and discover common interests. I can’t tell you when I decided to be more patient with my son, but having all this extra time certainly aided in that, because…
What the hell else did I have to do?
I’ve even started making a private game out of lecturing him. Just to keep myself amused and not see only red when he disobeys, I quote Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, and I tell him to, “Be cool.” I say, “Tell me you’re cool. Let’s just be a couple of Fonzi’s and be cool.”
Of course, he doesn’t know the reference, but it’s something fun my wife and I can laugh about after we correct his misbehavior. This helps us be more relaxed and less stern when disciplining him, thus allowing him to open up more when we ask him questions.
I don’t recommend everyone quote Sam Jackson when talking to their kids, but you’ve got to find a way to blend your unique sense of humor with talking to your kids, especially in those moments where all you want to do is scream at them and hope to God they run away and never come back. It’s the only way to stay cool, honey bunny.
Now that I’m home more, I have the opportunity to hug him more frequently. (That’s much easier now that he’s not spitting up anymore.) He loves our hugs. I make him hug me as hard as he can. It helps both of us.
I’ve been at home with my family for nine weeks, and I’m still not doing it perfectly. In fact, to be perfectly honest, the last two weeks have been really hard for us. But because of those great weeks we had earlier, I know we have a fighting chance, I know it’s possible for our relationship to test positive in the end.
I’m at least in a better position to sincerely apologize to him when I’m not being cool, and we can have a discussion. Because, in these quarantine times, what else is there to do but to improve on our in-house relationships? I’m locked in with them any way. Might as well make the best of it.